(8) Loyola Chicago vs. (12) Oregon State – 2:40 PM ET, CBS
- The Ramblers have KenPom’s #1 defense in America, which is a lot more remarkable than you may initially think. Across the last 11 seasons of basketball, only two other mid-major team has achieved the #1 ranking at any point in March: 2015-16 Wichita State and 2016-17 Gonzaga.
- Loyola’s first and foremost goal as a defense is to shut down the defensive boards and to play clean defense without fouling. The Ramblers rank 2nd in DREB% and 6th in defensive Free Throw Rate; no other team even ranks in the top 30 of both stats.
- It is really, really hard to crash the boards against Loyola. Only four teams all season topped a 25% OREB% in a single game against the Ramblers, and just two (Bradley and Northern Iowa) got above 30%.
- Just five teams have gotten above a point per possession on this Loyola defense in 2020-21; four of the five teams shot 44% or better from three.
- Perhaps just as notable: the Loyola offense. Only six times this season have they failed to reach a point per possession, almost entirely thanks to having the fourth-best 2PT% at 57.7%.
- As Illinois found out on Sunday, Loyola’s best chance to beat teams with more talent is to slow down the pace to a crawl. Loyola only played three games at 70+ possessions this season, and two of them were losses.
- The Ramblers are one of two teams left in the Sweet Sixteen with zero RSCI Top 100 recruits (Oral Roberts).
- Per hoop-explorer.com, the Rambler lineup of Norris/Clemons/Williamson/Hall/Krutwig is holding opponents to an astounding 0.713 PPP and forcing turnovers on 31.9% of possessions.
- It’s great to get hot at the right time. The Beavers are 42.1% from three over their last five games, with four of those five games featuring a 40% performance or better from three. It’s their first four-game streak of 40% or above since January 5-18, 2018.
- It’s also great to have your two best shot-defense games of the entire season in the NCAA Tournament. Oregon State held Oklahoma State to a 33.9% eFG% and Tennessee 37.3%; both would be their best eFG% allowed to a Top 100 opponent since the 2014-15 season.
- Getting to the free throw line, where the Beavers shoot 76.7% (30th nationally), will be incredibly important. The Beavers are 14-2 in games where they have a 30% FTA/FGA rate or better; they’re 5-10 when they don’t meet that mark and 2-7 when it’s 25% or lower.
- Of the teams remaining in the NCAA Tournament, no team has a lower offensive 2PT% than Oregon State’s 47%. They’re 9-2 when they get to 50% or better, but that’s only happened 11 times.
- Here’s a very random March thing: who could’ve guessed that of all the teams left in the field, Oregon State would have the third-lowest 2PT% allowed in NCAA Tournament play? The Beavers held Tennessee and Oklahoma State to a combined 35.6% hit rate on twos after entering the Tournament as the worst two-point defense in the field (52.5% FG% allowed).
- If there’s one thing you can be certain of Saturday, it’s that the game will be played at a snail’s pace. Both Oregon State and Loyola rank in the 300s in Average Possession Length, and only twice in the last month of play has Oregon State topped 68 possessions.
(1) Baylor vs. (5) Villanova – 5:15 PM ET, CBS
- Perhaps no team has a more deadly combination of elite rankings than the Baylor Bears. They rank #1 in 3PT%, #3 in eFG%, #3 in defensive TO%, and #6 in OREB%. Even Gonzaga only ranks in the top six of two categories.
- Keeping Baylor off the boards in an arduous task, and only seven opponents this year managed to keep them below a 30% OREB%. Of Baylor’s seven worst offensive outings this season, four featured a sub-30% OREB%.
- Per 100 possessions, no team in America has a better turnover margin than Baylor at +7.7. Abilene Christian was the second-closest this season.
- Baylor only lost the turnover battle five times this season. Because they’re Baylor, they went 5-0 in those games.
- Ultimately, what this game comes down to is shooting. Baylor’s only two losses this season came in games they shot 21% and 23% from three in, and in the 17 games where they shot 40% or better from downtown, 14 were double-digit victories.
- Potentially worth monitoring in this game is the fact that Baylor doesn’t get to the free throw line often (288th in FT Rate) and doesn’t hit their free throws very well when they get there (69.9%, 217th). Of the 16 remaining teams in the field, only Creighton gets a lower percentage of their points from the line than Baylor’s 14.2%.
- From 2005-06 to 2018-19, only two Baylor defenses cracked the top 100 in defensive TO% under Scott Drew. The last two years: 22nd and 3rd.
- Undeniably, this Villanova team probably would’ve received a better seed if Collin Gillespie were available. With him on the court this season, the Wildcats’ offense was nearly four points better per 100 possessions and they forced turnovers on 20.1% of possessions.
- Still, this is a very dangerous Wildcat team. They posted their second-best offensive effort of the season against North Texas to the tune of 1.424 PPP, where they tied a season-high for threes made in a single game at 15.
- No team is better in America at turnover prevention than Villanova. The Wildcats rank #1 in offensive TO% at 13.2%, and it’s the second time Jay Wright has had a team rank in the top 10 in this category (2005-06).
- Few players left in the field are of greater importance to their team than Jeremiah Robinson-Earl. With JRE on, the Wildcats are +16.0 per 100 possessions (non-schedule adjusted); with him off, they’re just +4.4, with most of the impact coming defensively.
- An obvious key for Villanova, as it is most times they play in March, is how many threes they can take and make on Saturday. When Villanova shoots 35% or better from three this season, they’re 13-1; when they fall below that number, they’re 5-5.
- Along with that, all of the Wildcats’ six best offensive performances this year saw them take at least 40% of their shots from downtown.
- Lastly, as difficult as it will be, Villanova has to keep Baylor off the boards at all costs. In four of their six losses this year, the opponent rebounded at least 29% of their misses.
(3) Arkansas vs. (15) Oral Roberts – 7:25 PM ET, TBS
- It’s actually kind of remarkable Arkansas is still here, given how many threes the Hogs gave up in the first two rounds. Colgate and Texas Tech combined to shoot 22-for-47 (46.8%) against Arkansas in their first two games.
- A great way to overcome that? Holding your opponents to 35.5% (Colgate) and 29.3% (Texas Tech) on two-pointers, both of which were each team’s worst 2PT% of the season. In particular, Arkansas forced both opponents to shoot just 6-for-35 on non-rim twos, with Tech going 2-for-20 in a game they lost by two points.
- Of great importance to the Hogs’ hopes to reach their first Elite Eight since 1995: keeping turnovers to a minimum. Arkansas went 4-4 in games where they posted a 20% TO% or worse; they were 20-2 in all other games.
- Perhaps unsurprisingly, three-point defense will be at a premium in this game. Oral Roberts has taken 51% of their shots from three in the Tournament and hits 38.2% of them on an average night. Arkansas only allowed 11 of their 28 opponents to crack 35% from downtown, but they did lose four of those eleven games.
- Look for the Tate/Notae/Davis/Moody/Justin Smith lineup to create serious chaos. Per hoop-explorer.com, Arkansas is out-scoring opponents by 32.1 points per 100 possessions with these five players, and most notably, they turn it over on just 10.5% of their offensive possessions.
- Who says you can’t be charmed? Oral Roberts entered this NCAA Tournament with just a 1% chance of seeing the second weekend; even Florida Gulf Coast entered at about 3.5%. The Golden Eagles have pulled the only two upsets in the Tournament that had a <20% chance of happening.
- Oral Roberts doesn’t get to the line all that frequently, but when they do, they’re deadly. The Golden Eagles are hitting 82.4% of their free throws, which would be an NCAA record if it holds.
- Making this Oral Roberts team cough the ball up is a lot harder than it looks. They only had four games this season where they turned the ball over on 20%+ of possessions.
- Prior to Sunday, teams who posted a 55% or better FG% and had at least 10 offensive rebounds were 137-3 this season. Florida did this and lost, because the Gators turned the ball over on 27.7% of possessions – the third-highest figure forced by an Oral Roberts defense in the last six seasons.
- A potential problem for this Cinderella story: in NCAA Tournament play, the Golden Eagles have allowed a 61.3% hit rate on two-pointers by opponents. No team left in the field gives up as many attempts at the rim as Oral Roberts does, with layups/dunks/tips representing 43% of all opponent shots.
(2) Houston vs. (11) Syracuse – 9:55 PM ET, TBS
- No team left in the field is more dangerous on the offensive boards than Houston. The Cougars rebound 39.9% of their misses, which ranks second-best in the nation. It’s a huge matchup advantage against a Syracuse zone that ranks 340th in defensive rebounding.
- That level of rebounding is especially important, as it’s helped Houston overcome some rough shooting days. Ten times this year, the Cougars posted an eFG% of 45% or worse. Houston went an astounding 9-1 in these games (all other high-major CBB teams combined to go 141-498) because in eight of these games, they kept their TO% below 20% and their OREB% at 32% or higher.
- If you catch Houston when they are shooting well, you might as well forget about winning. Houston went undefeated (14-0) this year when shooting 35% or better from three, as well as going 12-0 when making 50% or more of their twos and 16-0 when posting an eFG% of 50% or better.
- I’d like to introduce what I call The Houston: rebounding 35% or more of your misses and turning it over on 16% or less of your possessions. Houston did this 14 times this season. No other team did it more than eight times (Ohio State, Youngstown State).
- Now it’s time to talk Houston’s defense, which is equally impressive. The Cougars rank #1 in opponent eFG% at 43.3%, 5th in 2PT% allowed at 42.9%, and 12th in 3PT% allowed at 29.3%. But that’s not all! They also force turnovers on 21.6% of possessions (47th-best), block 14.7% of opponent twos (8th-best), and have a steal percentage of 11.9% (13th), meaning the majority of opponent turnovers are forced rather than unforced errors.
- Only four teams topped a point per possession on the Cougars this year, and only three shot better than 40% from deep. Cleveland State and Rutgers combined to go 13-for-31 on a relatively low percentage of attempts.
- No team left in the field takes a higher percentage of their shots as off-the-dribble jumpers than Houston (26.8%), per Synergy.
- Nothing beats a well-timed hot streak. The best shooting game of the entire season for Syracuse came in the first round against San Diego State (55.6% from three) and their fifth-best night came in the next round against West Virginia (45.2% from three, 61.9% on twos).
- Both games are particularly unusual, actually. In both games, Syracuse had a 20% or worse offensive TO% and never rebounded more than 22% of their misses despite being above the national average in both this year. Prior to Syracuse winning both of their games this way, high-major teams were 46-105 this year when hitting those two metrics.
- Four different Syracuse players have hit at least five threes in a game this season.
- A large amount of focus will be put upon Syracuse’s ability to keep Houston off the boards in this game, and deservingly so. The Orange are 3-7 when they’ve allowed a 36% or worse OREB% to opponents (15-2 all other games).
- Can Buddy Boeheim keep it rolling? Syracuse’s star son has scored at least 25+ points in four straight games and 156 points in March across six games, making him the third-leading scorer in America this month behind LSU’s Cameron Thomas and North Texas’ Javion Hamlet.
- As strange as it sounds, Syracuse actually wants you to shoot threes. In games where opponents have taken more than 45% of their shots from downtown, Syracuse is 11-2. In the games where opponents have gotten more action inside the perimeter? 7-7.
NEXT PAGE: Sunday’s games